What kind of effect does competition have in the workplace?
Watching the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games on television, and seeing the way in which these competitions spur the participants to amazing achievements, made me think about one of the great debates in the work arena: is competition in the workplace positive or negative? And how does a competitive workplace affect people with disabilities?
Many managers firmly believe that healthy competition can be a positive incentive in the workplace. Studies have shown that competition drives creativity and the skills required for innovation such as problem-solving.
On the other hand, too much competition, or the wrong kind of competition, can kill morale, raise stress levels – and generally undermine productivity and lead to a toxic organisational culture.
The Olympics – and the Paralympics – are a shining tribute to the positive aspects of competition; but the negative is also always present in the form of doping, cheating and sheer bad sportsmanship.
The rules against doping, for example, are put in place to try and ensure that the playing fields are level. But what if the playing field cannot be levelled? Isn’t that why the Olympics and the Paralympics are two separate events?
In a competitive workplace environment, should there be a “separate playing field” for people with disabilities? Is that practical, or even desirable? Is it necessary? How then does the principle, “Employ the person who is suitable qualified for the job” manifest itself in performance evaluation?
Because high performance and achievement in the workplace often has a monetary reward, it is essential that the field is as level as possible. A company should ensure that at a minimum the following eight policies are thought through. If not, they could significantly disadvantage people with disabilities:
- Performance management – issues of expectations, standards or quality of work, behaviour or attitude as well as concrete delivery against set objectives
- Remuneration – with bonuses often linked to performance, is it fair to people with disabilities?
- Tools of trade or equipment policy – ensuring people with disabilities have the right equipment or tools to do their jobs well
- Training and development policy – do all employees receive the training they require to do their current roles well and have prospects of promotion?
- Employee relations and wellness – policies that relate to discipline and a harmonious workplace
- Universal Access – the physical environment and the way in which work is organised; as well as management accessibility
- Succession planning – are people with disabilities prioritised and part of the succession plan?
- Procurement – does this promote access to suppliers whose ownership and management control is by people with disabilities?
Until the playing the fields are levelled, competition remains unfair.
Dr Jerry Gule is the chairman of South African Employers for Disability (SAE4D). email: firstname.lastname@example.org